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Old Folks: Paragons or a Menace on the Road?


It has been almost six years since an 86-year-old California driver killed 10 people when his car ran out of control in a shopping mall parking lot. But the raging controversy it ignited over what to do about elderly drivers has not died down.

Florida, the state with the highest percentage of drivers older than age 65, was the first to establish safety resource centers to specifically test elderly drivers' vision and decision-making behind the wheel. And Orlando, Florida, became the first U.S. city to give its evaluation center the authority to revoke the driving privileges of anyone deemed to be a risk on the road.

But many states still automatically renew the licenses of everyone who has maintained a good driving record.

Debate over the fitness of older drivers rages in newspapers and online. Many elderly drivers and their supporters say they obey the rules, drive more courteously and cautiously than younger drivers, and don't do much long-distance driving on highways, where accidents can be deadly. Often, they say, there are few or no bus or subway alternatives, and they cannot afford regular travel by taxi.

But others say slow-poke older drivers clog the road and ignite dangerous rage in other drivers. They point out that even old folks who are slipping into dementia and have no business on the road insist upon driving because it's their last, proud vestige of independent living.

Thus, one of the most difficult tasks for many adults is convincing their elderly parents that it's time to hand over the car keys as a safety measure to them and others on and along the road. Sometimes the only argument that works is a financial one. A crash by an older person with poor eyesight or judgment may lead to lawsuits that can wipe out a family's savings from a lifetime of work.

Read more of Ted's personal reflections and stories from the road on his blog, Ted Landphair's America.


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